The Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic has been the venerated icon of the cruiser world for quite a while now. With its 1.7-litre power plant and vast, sofa-like seats and the almost-copyrighted thrumming of the giant V-twin engine, it's everything one could ask for on a tour of the world.
To cut a long story short, the Softail has competition.
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In January Polaris rolled in the Indian. A couple of months ago UK's Triumph brought in the Thunderbird LT. A battle has been called. Let's play referee, shall we?
First things first — Indian makes no pretence of being in this fray. Its product is priced a clear ₹ 10 lakh above the Harley and the Triumph. We are a luxury brand. We cater to people who have Arrived. That is the clear message. So, the Indian starts at ₹ 25.5 lakh, and the Vintage is priced at ₹ 28.5 lakh.
The Thunderbird LT, though, is pitted squarely against the Heritage. The engine size is similar at 1,700 cc — visualise two Marutis powering a bike, with a 100-cc commuter bike thrown in as small change. What does set it apart is the weight. At 380 kg, the LT is probably the heaviest cruiser in this category, even heavier than its own big brother, the giant 2.3-litre Rocket3 Roadster.
And cannily, Triumph has priced the LT below the Softail by ₹ 70,000.
The LT produces about 151 Nm of torque, which gives it enough grunt for one to throw around the goliath. The Vintage has a tad less of torque at 139 Nm, but peaks at a much lower 3,000 rpm, more or less in the same range as the Softail's 130 Nm at 3,000 rpm.
Figures, figures. What does all of this mean in terms of the Actual Ride?
Well, the LT, like we said, is a goliath. It needs you to get your eye and hand in before you can take liberties with it. Treat it with respect, and it responds like a lamb. On the other hand, just getting the bike out of the parking lot and the handle straightened out to start the ride, would leave you soaked in sweat. In terms of sheer rideability, the Indian delights. Low-slung and long, the seating, the handles, the footrest, are all in that 'justright' zone. It also has a bigger engine, by 100 cc. And "anything that can be chromed, has been chromed". This does end up as reflection on the windscreen, but not unbearably so.
What impresses the most about it is the smoothness of the engine. Considering that Polaris built it from scratch, they have put in a very refined, finished product. It is easily the smoothest of the lot, even ahead of the parallel twin of the LT. And the amount of technology that the company has crammed into the package may well justify the price, though most of the features may be an overkill in a place like India, where roads are the grey area built for people to cross.
In terms of a straight ride, the LT is by far the best. For curves, the Indian and Harley are neck-andneck. Top speed for all three is in the region of 200 kph, though practically, one should not look north of 120-140 kph. A punctured tyre, obviously, would be a very serious issue!
So, which bike should you buy? It depends really on what you want to convey. Triumph calls itself the "bikers' choice". The Indian calls itself "The Choice". Obviously, both are trying to get under the skin of Harley. The question is, how do you see yourself ?
Would you be the proud Harley owner (a pride perhaps dented by Harley's own pitch at the middle-class with its ₹ 4.3 lakh Street)? Or are you an Indian owner with two BMWs in your stable, and that the world is your oyster?
Or are you the "real biker", ignoring brand names and images, extracting value for money on your Thunderbird LT?
That is what this buy boils down to. And only you can take that final call.